Jonathan Edwards and New Year’s Resolutions

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How are your new year’s resolutions doing so far? If you are two days into 2018, still not quite sure what you should “resolve” to do this year (if anything), perhaps an old set of resolutions can help.

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is one of the greatest theologians in the history of American Christianity. During his years as a pastor, Edwards produced a wealth of literature. We are fortunate today to have access to his complete works both in print and in online formats.

In the 1720’s, before Edwards had written his greatest works (e.g. The End for Which God Created the World, Religious AffectionsFreedom of the Will) or garnered the reputation that follows him today, he took time to write a few “Resolutions.” Steven Nichols, the president of Reformation Bible College, writes the following:

Edwards started writing his resolutions as fall gave way to winter in 1722. Edwards dated resolution number thirty-five as December 18, 1722, dating the last one, number seventy, on August 17, 1723. It’s likely he began his resolutions shortly before the date on number thirty-five, having just arrived in New York City in August of 1722 as an eighteen-year-old. These resolutions helped him face this tense moment in his life, this moment of uncertainty and change brought about by a new environment. Before Edwards got to number one, however, he offered a prefatory word:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will for Christ’s sake.”

This preface undergirds the seventy resolutions to follow, which is crucial to keep in mind. Cutting the resolutions off from the foundation of the preface leads to seeing them as the stuff of personal grit and determination to better oneself. That’s not only a mistaken reading, it’s a tragic one. The self-made person is a modern ideal, not a biblical one. With the preface in mind, though, one does see that Edwards calls himself to a life of high standards and great expectations. He’s resolved to a life that counts, not just a life of putting in time. In resolution number six, Edwards exclaims, “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.”

If you need an idea for resolutions this year, maybe you could peruse what Edwards wrote a long time ago in a land not so far from you. Desiring God broke them down by category here. You might not adopt his resolutions, but they might prick your mind and help you develop your own.

Regardless, resolution number six is certainly worth noting by way of introduction. Let us all live “with all [our] might, while [we] do live.” And let’s live that way for the joy of all peoples and the glory of King Jesus.

Happy 2018!

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